...despite the increased energy and emissions associated with Internet data flows, purchasing music digitally reduces the energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with delivering music to customers by between 40 and 80 percent from the best-case physical CD delivery, depending on whether a customer then burns the files to CD or not. This reduction is due to the elimination of CDs, CD packaging, and the physical delivery of CDs to the household. Based on our assumptions, online delivery is clearly superior from an energy and CO2 perspective when compared to traditional CD distribution.
And there we have it: Dematerialization presents a win-win scenario for the music industry. Replacing physical CDs with digital downloads means a cleaner, greener, more efficient (and presumably less expensive) supply chain. The same can logically be said for magazines, newspapers, books, or anything else than can be transformed into a digital file and sent via Internet tubes.
But wait -- the dematerialization story is not entirely cut and dry when you factor in end-user behavior and preferences or if you overlook the fact that digital delivery comes at a measurable cost and associated environmental impact. The authors find, in some scenarios, the digital-download approach is more or less on par with purchasing physical music CDs.
For instance, the traditional retail-delivery scenario [of buying a CD at a retail store] is nearly equivalent to downloading and burning if the customer walks rather than drives to the retail store. Similarly, if the file transfer size is increased to 260 MB (from 60-100 MB) the download and burn option looks very similar to the e-commerce CD scenario due to increased Internet energy use for downloading.
Moreover, it's important to consider that an album downloaded and burned to CD isn't the same as an album bought from the store. The customer who downloads the album has to purchase blank CDs and go through the hassle of downloading and burning the music -- and said user doesn't have the pretty artwork, lyrics, and other printed materials that come with the store-bought CD. In other words, dematerialization simply for the sake of dematerialization can break what I consider to be one of the most important rules of green technology: Deliver the same service or better using fewer resources.